Review of John Grisham’s Baseball Novel, Calico Joe
Calico Joe is the newest novel by my favorite fiction author John Grisham. It arrived on my ipad late on Tuesday afternoon. I finished it by Wednesday night and most of it was finished on a trip to see our Gator softball team take on UCF a couple of hours away. We lost the game by the way! So it was a really good thing that at least I had the pleasure of reading this book or the day would have not been as pleasant.
The fact that this story is set in the context of baseball in general and major league baseball in particular definitely helped me immediately buy in to the characters and the story. The thirty year flashback of the main character and narrator of the book take the reader back to the summer of 1973. I was twelve that summer and because I loved baseball as much as the main character did, I knew all the names of the players Grisham mentions weaved in with the fictional account of Calico Joe.
I will not give away the plot but the book is a good reminder of the fragility of our innocence and the fallen nature of all of us, even our greatest heroes. It is an honest look at redemption and the consequences of our actions for generations to come. I think everyone could find a great lesson in the book and for those who are baseball fans, it is a must read!
The book deals in a subtle way with the changing of the game of baseball over the years. I think it began to change when free agency hit the scene. Some of the changes have been good, even great, especially for the players and the money they can make. However, the changes were tough on those who had been around the game for a long time because some of the unwritten rules of the game were changing as well. This is captured in the book for the discerning fan of the game, but others will miss this aspect of the characters and their struggles. The early seventies was the last of the eras of baseball where fans were tied to teams first, then players. Now it seems that all we ever hear about are the players first, the managers second and maybe the team a distant third. The baseball fans who were kids in the seventies will read this book with a sense of loss I think because it will remind us of how far the game has moved since then. Now the entire game is about fantasy numbers and individual statistics and our favorite players may only be on our favorite team for a couple of years before they are traded so we don’t lose them to free agency!
Calico Joe brings us back to remembering that the game we love is ultimately the story of players whose lives are intertwined forever in moments that play out in front of us on the field and on TV, some good and some tragic. It also reminds us that our days on this earth are numbered and every one of them is an opportunity to do something good and leave a legacy or do something evil and make the lives of our families and friends incredibly more difficult.